Global Partnerships

Forming Global Collaborations
Guidance and procedure on developing a non-binding memorandum of understanding

Global collaborations are often informally recorded in a Memorandum of Understating (“MOU”), a non-legal document which captures the aspirations and goals for a collaboration.

The Provost’s Office of Global Affairs offers the following guidance and procedure in support of forming a global collaboration through a non-binding MOU.[*] To discuss in more detail, please contact Colette Watt, Program Coordinator, Office of Global Affairs, by email or at 919-684-0682.

Global Partnership Database

The Provost’s Office of Global Affairs has established a global partnerships database to collect and manage information about agreements between Duke and educational institutions outside the United States. 

When considering an MOU, please contact Colette Watt at the Office of Global Affairs to check this database to see if there is an existing MOU with the proposed partner, or an existing MOU that covers a similar topic.

MOU Template

The MOU template should be used when Duke proposes a collaboration to an educational institution outside the United States.

As you will see, the key elements of the MOU template are to describe the contemplated collaboration and to make clear that the MOU does not establish any binding legal obligations. 

After completing a draft based on the MOU template, please send it to Colette Watt for review and to determine if the MOU should be between Duke and its partner at the full institutional level, or whether the MOU should be between particular departments or units within each institution. 

If the global partner has proposed its own MOU, please send that to Colette Watt for review. It may be possible to revise the partner proposed MOU in accord with the non-binding requirements of the Duke template MOU; or we may ask that you propose our template. 

If guidance from Duke Office of Counsel is required in the MOU drafting process, it will be facilitated by the Office of Global Affairs.


Most MOUs come about as a result of cross-institution faculty relationships, but it is important that the department or unit that supports a faculty member is supportive of the MOU since the binding agreements to follow will involve a commitment of institutional resources. When entering into a partnership, please keep in mind that Duke cannot offer access to online resources external institutions.

The submission of an MOU to the Office of Global Affairs for review should be by, or at least record the endorsement of, the individual who academically oversees the faculty member’s department or unit (such as a Department Chair or the Director of an Institute). As a general rule, it is useful to include a departmental or unit administrator in this process. 

For Duke, MOUs are generally signed by the Vice President and Vice Provost for Global Affairs and the individual who academically oversees the faculty member’s department or unit. There will be times when an interested faculty member signs. For more significant MOUs, the President or Provost might sign. In general, the titles of signatories to MOUs should be aligned.

MOU Considerations

A non-binding MOU is an important step towards one or more legally binding agreements. As such, Duke should not execute an MOU unless it has a good faith interest in moving to the next step. The following considerations should be taken into account when establishing an MOU:

  1. What institution(s) will be involved in the collaboration? Are any of them government-owned or controlled?
  2. What is the nature of the envisioned collaboration, what are the anticipated activities, and when would they occur/end?
  3. Which/how many Duke faculty or staff will be involved?
  4. Will the activities include extended travel or travel to countries on Duke’s restricted region list?
  5. How will the proposed collaboration be funded, and will there be any conditions on the funding that should be considered now?
  6. Will the collaboration require the use of facilities or one or more vehicles?
  7. Will the collaboration require employees or contractors in the foreign location?
  8. Will the collaboration involve any health care clinical activity, animal use, human subjects research, or use of controlled materials or biohazards?
  9. Will (or might) intellectual property (e.g., copyright or patents) be used in or generated by the contemplated collaboration?
  10. Will (or might) confidential information be used in or generated by the contemplated collaboration?
  11. Is there an expectation that the Duke name will be used in connection with the contemplated collaboration?

Best Practices for Productive Partnerships

International partnerships can enhance the curriculum by providing international exposure for students less likely to study abroad. Such partnerships can also advance research by enabling the Duke community to extend its focus beyond the US.

In doing so, collaborative international agreements are central to Duke’s global mission, which strives to provide Duke students and faculty with the ability to develop the knowledge and experience needed to understand the world and address major global challenges.

Impactful and productive partnerships are those that are:

  • Reciprocal, mutually beneficial and considerate of inequalities between partners
  • Focused on long-term relationship-building between institutions
  • Committed to regular communication and resolving differences
  • Interdisciplinary or institution-wide
  • Interested in developing new projects beyond those originally defined


[*] If the goal is to establish legally binding obligations, a legal agreement should be formed with the support and/or approval of relevant Duke administrative support units who create and approve the execution of legal agreements.